I met my best friend Gianna in the bathroom of a hosted sweet sixteen party. We discussed our hair; hers was worn springy and curly while I had opted to section and twist my strands for the occasion. After a brief girl talk ‘sesh we made our way to the dance floor, and continued to move and sway together through the remainder of our tenancy on Long Island into our early 20’s.

Gianna was diagnosed with Bi-Polar and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) at age 13, medication was administered thereafter. She was on a cocktail of pills — mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, and Adderall/Ritalin for the ADD. Ambien was introduced as a result of the other medications keeping her up at night.

Our friendship came easy while her bouts with bi-polar were anything but, especially during high-school. Contemplation of suicide and anxiety plagued many of her days and crept into her nights. There were bullies, especially those who purposely liked to push Gianna’s buttons to evoke a reaction. Like poking a bear, they tried to make the “bi-polar bitch” pop out, calling her names and setting her into a rage to entertain themselves and get her in trouble. I felt for her and I pity those kids — now distant Facebook friends for the sake of nostalgia, that had involvement in making someone’s formative years a living hell. School was so miserable for her that she worked twice as hard to be able to graduate a year early to escape the negative environment. Through the drama — me, being an optimist and her being someone with perseverance, we stuck together as a pair. Jokingly, she was like my pitbull. Sometimes I didn’t know if that was attributed to her mental health or her Sicilian heritage (I kid), either way we tried to make the best of things through our shared sense of humor.

“Doctors told me I would be on medication for the rest of my life,” she says.

Gianna had a few failed attempts to wean herself off prescription drugs cold-turkey, which she credits to irresponsibly not consulting with her doctor. These mishaps made her feel worse, to an extent heightening her emotions, and sent her right back to taking her pills for years to come.

As we grew older, we grew apart locationally. For 7+ years we’ve lived the farthest apart from each other, her in Michigan and me in Hawaii. In all those years she has gotten married and become a mama to her three babes (ages 8, 5, and 5 months). Among all those milestones, she managed to do so while living medication-free.

With the help of her husband — in the season of spring 2012, Gianna decided to stop her prescriptions for good after consulting her doctor. Like the promise of budding flowers, she too wanted a fresh start; a rebirth. The decision came to her as both she and husband Dominique grew tired of pill bottles piling up in the cabinet; the two imagined and discussed a life where they felt confident that she could live without them. It was through professional help, proper weaning off, and the patience and support of her spouse that she was able to reach her goal. I rooted for her like a cheerleader off to the side of the stands, and was happy that she claimed her victory.

She had this to say about her experience, “There are all types of different therapies that actually work and every individuals’ solution looks different. I want to note that it is so possible to come off of medication, but it must be done properly by a professional so that withdrawal isn’t so harsh. If your psychiatrist refuses to take you off of medication seek one that will work with you to accomplish your goal, they are out there!”

Both pregnancy and her postpartum were what she likes to call ‘difficult’, especially after her recent birth — and first baby boy. She experienced depression and suicidal thoughts, opportunely reaching out to me about her feelings.

She opens up, “I’ve cried a lot (like many) because I feel so alone. I cry because of my body and that I don’t even feel like myself right now, but I know things will get better because it’s only been 5 months since having my son. It feels like a lot of pressure having multiple children and making sure they all get equal amounts of love. I also am so grateful for my children, and the fact that I finally have a son,” she exclaims. “Literally every time I look at him I thank God for blessing us with a boy. I wanted him so bad for years and God delivered. I’m thankful that my children are healthy and gifted. They and my husband are my motivation and why I’ve never given up.”

Giving herself ‘reminders’ help her through her postpartum. She finds comfort in, “Remembering that this is only a season in my life and it doesn’t last forever.”

As for her well-being, she’s working on it. She is diligently balancing on a line of being a stay-at-home mom to three children and also focusing on her mental health. “Realizing that I need to make myself a priority was an epiphany for me,” she sighed.

She finds emotional release through her cooking and baking; etiquette that she carefully watched her mother Carol do as a child. Her passion is shared with her two doting daughters. “I feel most calm when I can just create in the kitchen,” she smiles.

I scroll through her Instagram practically salivating at her vegan creations and envious that she makes time for such things in the midst of caring for three attention seeking tots. She connects her vegan lifestyle to her journey towards both good physical and mental health.

With the start of the year she finds herself back in the gym. She attributes being able to make time to work-out as a part of her therapy. For many new moms, and even for good mental health, exercise can be a catalyst for positivity. Feeling good in her body and becoming sound of mind aid her path towards stability.

Gianna embraces a studious curiosity in wellness in regards to her work towards obtaining multiple certificates online in relation to diet, lifestyle intervention, and women’s health. She hopes to further her studies as a health consultant.

“It makes me feel so good when I can help people with their health issues and be an advocate for patients who are maybe scared or don’t understand their treatment options,” she glows. “It’s so important to me to be a support system to others who face doubt, and say you can do what you feel in your heart is right, whether it’s an issue of body or mental.”

When she feels overcome with negative feelings she likes to pray. At times of feeling anxious she incorporates full spectrum CBD oil every now and then to help calm herself. Breastfeeding also brings her to a peaceful mental state, along with venting to her husband about her worries to keep her grounded.

“I’ve come a long way…we’ve come a long way,” she beams.

My best friend is Bi-Polar, sometimes sad, most of the time happy, and one kick-ass mama bear to her cubs. Gianna’s advice to other mothers, those with and without mental illnesses, is to find things that bring you joy.

“I want my kids seeing that being a happy mommy means doing something for yourself,” she says.

She doesn’t live in a delusional world that all her problems are behind her since her divorce with medication, instead she pushes through the obstacles, one day at a time, filled with just as much perseverance as our high school days. Her wellness, like many others, is a continuous process; and one to be proud of.

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